Electric Dreams

 Jayne Gackenbach

Interview by

Victoria Quinton

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 Quinton, Victoria (1996 May). Jayne Gackenbach - Interview. Electric Dreams 3(4). Retrieved from Electric Dreams July 27, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

VQ How long have you had a formal interest in dreams?

JG I suppose I got interested when I was about 12 and started wanting to go to bed cause it was fun - shocked my parents that there was no longer an argument - but my serious interest began with my dissertation which was begun in 1976 and was on lucid dreams - although I paid attention to my dreams through my research phase of my career not until I immigrated to Canada in the late 1980's did I really begin to take them seriously as a personal growth vehicle - that was in large part due to my involvement with the central Alberta Cree.

VQ Is their tradition on dreams largely an oral one?

JG I've seen nothing written about it beyond perhaps some of the anthropological literature and the work I have been doing with Don Kuiken at the University of Alberta and the writing I have done - yes it is oral

VQ How do they approach dreams, and how does their way differ from techniques you had previously tried?

JG I have written extensively about this elsewhere - here is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote for a forthcoming book edited by Stan Krippner - the story I tell is from my forthcoming book, "The Traditional Death of Crow Woman".

It isn't just that Natives use dreams more as stories than non-Natives rather it is that dreams for them are more present as lived experiences in another realm which then serve to guide. Let me illustrate from part of a story I have just completed telling in book form (Gackenbach, in press b) about a Canadian Native woman who died four years ago at age 49.

Raised in a dysfunctional family and repeating the pattern in her adult life, Crow Woman became involved in the recovery movement through individual and group work and successfully recovered from alcoholism and drug addiction. She herself became a counselor to other Natives. The hundreds of people at her funeral and constant stream of visitors during her last weeks attested to the success of her personal efforts at helping other Natives to recover from their own histories of addiction, violence, and abuse.

At the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she was deeply committed to her culture's traditional beliefs and practices. Despite a grim prognosis, she rejected surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy as culturally inconsistent. Instead she immediately turned to the "Old Man", an 82-year-old shaman who speaks six Native languages. She lived with his family, fasting, using poultices and herbal/root remedies the Old Man prepared, and taking sweats to purge the cancer from her body.

The paradox of her finally attaining psychological health along with profound spiritual transcendence experiences at the time of her physical bodies disintegration was the ground work for a powerful teaching story among the family which they agreed to share with me and readers of my book.

Because of the sensitivity of the Cree for dreams and their belief that dreams are the "place" where one receives "visits" from those who have passed on, Crow Woman has continued to be a major influence in the lives of those close to her. Her messages are not always welcome or immediately understood but their impact is clearly due to the beliefs of those who experience these dreams. Here are two examples of how the Native episteme around dreams of Crow Woman drove subsequent action.

When Crow Woman's cousin, Jessy, went to sleep she was feverish to point of almost delirious. And when she woke the dream was vivid and compelling. In it Crow Woman told her distant cousin to sit down, "There are some messages I have to tell you that you have to pass on to people". Jessy was reluctant but Crow Woman insisted. When Jessy woke she thought, "I am not doing this". When I asked this young Native woman what her was resistance was about, Jessy said the messages were like Crow Woman, straight forward and direct . Jessy also felt, why me? First of all she and Crow Woman did not get along that well before Crow Woman died and despite being a family member, Jessy was kind of new to the family dynamics having been raised in another province. So when she asked Crow Woman in the dream, "why me", it was "because I know you will tell them."

Then Crow Woman told her cousin the messages. One was for the Old Man's Wife, who was an elder herself to which this heavy set Cree woman, replied, "there is no way I can tell Jen that." The grandfathers were telling Crow Woman that Jen had to heal her psychological garbage before she could represent them in the teachings. If she didn't the people would have a hard time hearing the true teachings. It was a lot for a young Native woman to pass onto an elder.

Then Crow Woman told Jessy, "you know you've got one coming too". Jessy mumbled, "Yea, I kind of figured I did." Her message was that Jessy had to get over her pettiness. You have a lot of work to do and we don't have time for you to be petty. "It just hit me like a sledge hammer." Although she knew she was capable of being petty, she had worked very hard to hide those inner thoughts from others. It was a deeply secret part of herself. In fact, when Jessy told me I too was surprised as I had known her well for almost four years and pettiness was the last thing I would have thought about Jessy. It was indeed well hidden.

Jessey's reaction to what Crow Woman said is indicative of the perception that is widely spread in Crow Woman's family. The dream comes from out there and is NOT simply internal unresolved personal issues. With my western scientific hat, I might say, "of course Crow Woman knew about your pettiness because it was your dream thus it was simply you telling yourself about yourself". But to say that to Jessy or to any of the family members about many, if not all, of their dream experiences of Crow Woman would be to strip them of their meaning, source, and importance. As I conducted the interviews for this book gradually I found it easier to think of their experiences as somehow "otherworldly". It is clear to me that this view of "reality" is one that I struggle with sharing yet deeply respect.

About three years after Crow Woman died her eldest son, Wil, and his common-law wife, Carla, separated. Carla and their children had moved to a downstairs apartment. At 28 years of age, this tall young man is not only good looking and well built but he has a personal presence that makes many a woman's head turn which may have been instrumental in their separation.

A day after the separation Wil had a powerful dream of his mother. The room where Wil slept seemed so empty without the baby's crib and the other things that make a home with children seem so much a home. He had taken in a roommate who slept in the same room. The roommate liked to sleep with the window open and Wil felt quite cold that night as he fell asleep.

He dreamed that he was with his mother and his older sister, Shelly. There "was only us three through that whole dream and we were quite simply having fun". He continued, "I can remember us joking around, having fun, actually being happy. It's nothing I felt before." He wished he had written it down but the thing that stood out the most for him was how "happy, really, really, happy." they were. "It was like she was alive, it wasn't now, it wasn't like it was before. It was like it [would have been] now [and mom and] Shelly were with me and we were having fun. It wasn't something that has to be explained. We were close." It was a "sign for me that is how it would be if she was here." Then he awoke.

"It was dark, it was cold, and it was dead silent. I felt so scared. I couldn't go to sleep. I couldn't move. It was totally different. It was like I was pulled from good to evil." He was so scared that he could not sleep. So he got up and went downstairs to his wives apartment. "I went into the bedroom and I [picked up] my daughter and hugged her. Everything in that room downstairs was so opposite of what it was upstairs. If you can ever understand what love feels like that was it." He cried for about 10 or 15 minutes while his tiny daughter stroked his head. "It was almost like my mother was saying 'what are you doing up there, you should be downstairs with your family.' I did not try to understand why that happened or why those emotions were so strong. . . . It felt like she pushed me, she made me, she was there, I know she was there." He pointed out that ordinarily he would not have gotten out of bed and sought out his wife and child because of his pride.

As with his cousin Jessy's story of a dream message from Crow Woman, Wil's story can also be easily reduced to internal psychological mechanisms interacting with previous real lie events in order to create the dream. As a scientifically trained psychologist it is easy for me to use such reductionistic thinking when faced with such stories including my own. Not only do I then stay within the accepted limits of my science but also the limits of my cultures view of reality.

Yet, I would be doing Wil and Jessy a disservice if I were to approach their dreams in this fashion. Further, I would be doing both my professional and personal self a disservice.

In the cases of these young Native people it wasn't the dreams per sec that caused their actions rather it was their belief about the reality of the source of the dream which resulted in the powerful impact of the dreams and the actions that were subsequently taken.

Jessy could be petty and Wil knew he could be filled with too much pride. In Jessy's case it was very well hidden, if she believed that the dream was only her inner self acting on the minds play ground, she may have been impacted by it but I doubt to the extent that she was. Jessy only told the messages after struggling for several days with whether she should and finally when she lost her voice she realized she had to tell the tale.

It would have been easy to have contextualized the message of her dream with her waking rational voice as, "well, there may be truth to these messages but I have no right to say these things to these people. I have no right to represent Crow Woman who I didn't even get along with." So too for Wil, upon awakening if he didn't have the belief system he had in the reality of the presence of his mother his waking pride may have kept him in bed.

But Jessy's belief that Crow Woman came from the spirit world of the dead to deliver these messages from the grandfathers via Jessy was so deep, that by not doing it she lost her voice. Only when she began to deliver the messages did her voice return. So too, Wil's belief in the reality of the visitation caused him to take an action which resulted in the purging of some deeply held hurts as his daughter and wife looked on.

It seems to me that the power of the dream to act as a guiding story for the Cree is dependent on their beliefs in its separate ontology. In the next section I will briefly review some of the empirical research on the dream perspectives of the central Alberta Cree.

----end of quote -------

VQ Have you been more influenced by book theories or by word of mouth theories?

JG I love the question! I am going to interpret this to me formal scholarly Theories (book) and informal peer group discussions (word of mouth). The first important theoretical influence was my father, so I suppose that was word of mouth. He spoke to me about philosophy and eastern metaphysics as well as parapsychology and religion from early childhood. He got his BA from Duke in psychology just before WWII and specifically went there to study parapsychology with MacDougall who had opened the parapsychology lab there. These many years of personal teaching laid the groundwork for my interest in these topics and eventually in dreams. Then in the 60's and early 70's I was a child of my generation (baby boom) and explored these same ideas from an experiential perspective. Upon entering graduate school in 1974 I began a real scholarly interest in dreams and related states/experiences. From then the most influential were scholarly - although some of this was quite word of mouth - much of what I learned from Harry Hunt, Skip Alexander and Steve LaBerge came from personal discussion. When I moved to Canada I became involved with a Cree Shaman and the teaching again became primarily verbal although I still am left breathless at a truly brilliant work in book/paper form. For instance, as much as I have spoken, worked with, and read the work of Harry Hunt I am stunned by the breadth and scope of his new book "The Nature of Consciousness". As I face 50 (in a few weeks!) I take my wisdom where I can find it and am less and less fussy about it's source.

VQ I know it is difficult, but could you summarize the theories of Harry Hunt, Skip Alexander and Steve LaBerge, or just briefly "introduce" them to us?

JG Summarize theories - don't I wish!!!!! Harry wrote "The Multiplicity of Dreams" and is one of the original researchers into lucid dreaming. Skip is a developmental psychologists who has proposed an empirically supported model of the development of higher states of consciousness based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I lived near him in Iowa for almost and as with Harry we became close friends. I worked with Steve for about 10 years in the early days of research into lucid dreaming.

VQ Also Would you like to give some info about ASD and the new bulletin board?

JG it's up and running - linked to "cold fusion." Let's see I proposed to the executive committee of ASD that we mount a web page last fall. I got approval for a very small budget and very conservative first page. That is to say, we decided to start with only what we already have in the public domain. However, there was a part of that proposal which said there would be a BB for ASD related matters - with the need for a BB for the conference the initial concept has broadened and now there is a lot of debate about whether we should interpret dreams on it - at this point it is roughly monitored and dreams are not interpreted; although they are certainly central to any task we do there. it is linked from Electric Dreams - it is


[now  http://www.asdreams.org ]

VQ Who do you think may benefit from participating in " Unlocking the Secrets of Your Dreams?"

JG The course is designed as non-credit and introductory. I am hoping to show students both the science and experiential work with dreaming, by offering them a variety of information on dreams from which they can pick and choose in a web page format.The assignments allow them to begin to think about their own dreams in a psychologically "safe" and fun way. As the course progresses there are activities which allow more depth in this work.

Interview conducted by Victoria Quinton
mermaid 8*)

share a dream; cvstobvs prr

[ now http://www.alphalink.com.au/~mermaid/ ]